04/20/2016, 18.16
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For Lahore Franciscan, Amoris Laetitia is a reconciliation tool for Catholics

by Kamran Chaudhry

Fr Victor Sawera heads a Franciscan centre in Lahore. He is personally involved in spiritual outreach with 30 families. He began working with Catholic couples when he was ordained eight years ago. Poverty and extra-marital relations are the main challenges.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Amoris Laetitia "can help reconcile Catholic families that have separated from the Church,” said Fr Victor Sawera, who spoke to AsiaNews about Pope Francis’ post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family that was released on 8 April.

The Franciscan clergyman is the superior at ‘Dar-ul-naim’, a Franciscan centre in Lahore. For the past eight years, the facility has helped married couples and families in so-called irregular situations, as defined in chapter eight of the pope’s letter.

“By encouraging acceptance of people’s imperfections, the Holy Father opened up many possibilities, without offering a complete deal,” Fr Sawera said. In fact, the Holy Father repeatedly stressed the need to assess actual situations and not establish an ideal in our approach to families.

At paragraph 300, the pontiff writes, “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations [. . .], it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.”

For the divorced who remarry, “The logic of integration (299) is the key to their pastoral care” so that they can be allowed “not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it.”

For Fr Sawera, "priests who live in Christian neighbourhoods always face a challenge when dealing with divorced or polygamous Catholics. Usually these people are seen as sinners. Many priests feel uncomfortable when they go to their funerals. The Apostolic Exhortation changes this."

Although his work with Catholic couples began eight years ago when he was ordained in Karachi, the clergyman has provided spiritual outreach to 30 families in Lahore for the past two years.

"My first test came a few months after my ordination,” he explained. “A married man in our parish brought another wife, a Muslim, from Punjab. She embraced Christianity and began to attend church. When the employer found out about, he fired her. He wanted a marriage certificate, but we could not provide it to him in accordance with canon law. I finally suggested he get help from a local pastor."

The reason that drives the Franciscan priest to help people in irregular situations is to ensure a better future for their children. "What is their guilt in all this?" he asks.

Still, for Catholic families, the greatest challenges are poverty and extra-marital relations. “There is a high rate of marital infidelity in other confessions.” At the same time, “We must keep in mind that 40 per cent of Christians develop romantic relationships with people of other faiths."

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